As I think I have established here before, I have a hard time saying no. And really love my little town library, which is within two blocks' walking distance of our house, and which became a great destination for hot days and rainy days with children; never mind that they often have the book I need, when the four copies theoretically available at our county mega-library have all been checked out. It's a little like Cheers there, too: go there often enough, and everyone knows your name and your kids' names, and the kinds of books you like, and all sorts of other random facts about you that only librarians and your regular checkout folks at the grocery store can figure out. They're a little like a monastic order, librarians: Keepers of the Book, keepers of your secrets, keepers--sometimes--of your guilty and not-so-guilty pleasures.
So I stood for election in an uncontested seat, and was voted in unanimously by people to whom I'd never spoken a word.
The Board is a good-hearted group of people. I am the youngest member by (I suspect) about 15 years, but that doesn't mean I have the most energy. And I admire their dedication, even if sometimes the conversation at meetings takes odd and less-productive detours.
Most of our discussions so far have focused on "friend-raising" events: ways to get the community involved and make them more aware of the library (because, it's true, some people in my town don't even know we have a library, due partly to the confusing county library system that surrounds us, but of which we are not technically a part). And there's been some discussion about a fund-raising event, because there are things our little library can use.
But tonight we advertised an "open meeting" (open to all of the Friends, that is) which would be a Q and A with the library director, complete with cookies for refreshments. (You see where this is going for me eventually, don't you?).
No one came for the cookies, unfortunately, besides the Board. It's still early in the life of our group, and we are struggling to build interest in the membership. I keep arguing that people won't show up to meetings unless they feel that they have a job to do, a role to play. And we are slowly creating those jobs and roles. It's too bad, really, because tonight's conversation turned to ebooks and open access computers, and I learned a lot about what's happening on the front lines of my little library's doorstep.
Like, for example, the difficulty in getting an ebook format that everyone's device can read, despite the fact that ePub is becoming more or less the industry standard. Like working with publishers who don't like to "sell" ebooks to libraries, and who will reluctantly do so sometimes on arbitrary-sounding terms, which could include things like an expiration code coded into the system: after 26 times (which, according to some publishers, is the number of times a paper book can be circulated before it begins to fall apart), the book will simply evaporate. Like the fact that so many books get published not with publishers, and if a library wants to acquire them for a collection, they must do so under yet another set of unique terms. Like working with aggregators (who become the middle-men, not even with publishers) to try to negotiate terms for a number of libraries and publishers together. Like the ways in which some libraries negotiate directly with large providers of ebooks (like Overdrive). The layers of complication for a library to provide ebooks to their patrons are more significant than I realized.
But the development that he is having a harder time coming to terms with, said our library director, was the expectation for libraries to provide open access computers. What does it mean, he asked us, that when the library opens in the morning, there are 15 people lined up to go in, and 12 of them go to the computers to sit down and check Facebook and listen to music? How does that fulfill the library's mission?
I speculated that just as the purpose of the humanities have changed in higher education over the past decade (shifting from the study of the "book" to the study of "texts"--or cultural productions writ broadly), so has the purpose of the library changed from circulator of books to the point of connection with the text, with information. And Facebook is as much a cultural production, a text, as
Part of me wonders if libraries will ever go away, if the decline of the paper book and the barriers to creating equal access for patrons (who get varied access now according to the devices they can afford) in a BYOD world will change the face of libraries as we know them. Or if libraries will become less about books and more about creating conversations around culture, providing centers for cultural community. Whatever happens, I hope that they still hold meetings with the promise of cookies.
Are you a Friend of your local library? Or just a friend? What do you think the libraries of the future might look like?
(*thank you for the correction, (Not)Maud, watchful editorial heroine of mine.)
Adapted from here, these are the cookies I made for the library's meeting tonight. I had some self-rising flour in the cabinet, and have been working diligently to get rid of it; I finally emptied the box.
10 T. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. turbinado sugar
1 c. self-rising flour
3/4 c. whole wheat or spelt flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. baking powder
1 c. dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a small saucepan set over medium low heat, melt butter and set aside to cool slightly.
Combine sugars and butter into a large bowl and mix well with a whisk until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Pour butter into a large bowl and stir in brown sugar and caster sugar until smooth and sugar is mostly dissolved. Add the egg and the vanilla, and continue to mix well.
Sift flours and baking powder together into a small bowl and then gradually mix into sugar mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop cookie mixture onto parchment-lined baking trays by rounded tablespoons and bake for 13 minutes or the cookies are just lightly golden. Allow cookies to cool on trays for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.